Duplication in the Old Testament – why Chronicles?

Those of us who believe that the Bible is a divinely-special book, or set of books, are aware that there are other documents from the same time that are not in there.  “Gospels of Thomas”, and the like.  We’re also aware that many books of the Bible are anonymous, and even that some scholars think that a few of the books that are attributed to, say, Paul or Moses were not written by them.  Belief in the Bible implies (I think) not merely a belief that the words we have are inspired, but that also the selection was inspired.  God had a plan for His 66 books.

So then there is the question of Chronicles.

The Bible is a long book.  Copying it, translating it, analysing it, printing it, occasionally smuggling or hiding it, has been an enormous task for many Christians through the ages.  If God is in control of the Bible, why did He insist on making it longer than it needs to be, by duplicating so much of Samuel and Kings in Chronicles?

(The two books of Samuel tell the story of Israel/Judah from the birth of the prophet Samuel through the days of tragic King Saul to his death (1 Samuel) and the life and triumphant reign of King David (2 Samuel), and the two books of Kings tell the story of David’s successors from Solomon onwards, covering both the North Kingdom of Israel, until its defeat by Assyria, and the South Kingdom of Judah, until its defeat by Babylon, the destruction of the Temple, and the Exile.  The two books of Chronicles tell the story of King David and the Kingdom of Judah, up until the Exile.)

Comparing the two shows then that the writer of the Chronicles, writing after the return from Exile, is not interested in the long-past Kingdom of Israel.  So all the juicy stories of Elijah and Elisha, Ahab and Jezebel, are only in Kings.  He/she is interested, on the other hand, in vast lists of names, not just names of ancestors and kings, but of temple servants.  This seems to be because he/she is also very interested in the Temple, and in stressing the importance of worship.  (I am indebted to the introduction to Chronicles in Eugene Petersen’s “The Message” for these themes.)

I personally like the fact that the Bible contains long lists of names, showing us that all through the centuries there are people, real people, mostly obscure, who carry on the line… the tradition… the work.  But don’t we have enough names in Numbers and Nehemiah?  Isn’t there enough about the Temple in Kings and Ezekiel?

Do we really need Chronicles?

I have a theory as to why God put it there.

If you ask most Christians, “did the great King David commit any sins?” I suspect they will say, “Yes.  He committed adultery with Bathsheba, and tried to cover it up by arranging the murder of her husband Uriah.”  Some might add, “And this (and maybe other things) really messed up his family”, or “And it’s not clear how much God disapproved of his having numerous wives and concubines”.

But in Chronicles, the only serious offence that David commits is to order a census of the people.  (1 Chronicles ch 21: he was tempted by Satan.)  This story is also in 2 Samuel ch 24, where oddly David was tempted by God.  The story of the census and resulting plague leads to the identification of the site for the future Temple, which may be why it was included.

Otherwise, Chronicles goes to extreme lengths to cover up all the less savoury parts of David’s reign.  Bathsheba is named as his wife, and mother of several sons, but she is merely described as “daughter of Ammiel”, and not “wife of Uriah” (1 Chron 3:5).

And if you read Chronicles, there is only one tiny reference (1 Chron 29:27) to the fact that David ruled in Hebron alone for seven years after Saul’s death, before “all Israel” offered him the crown.  All the messy period of fighting and assassination which occupies 2 Sam chs 2-4, and the whole reign of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth (surely one of the most pitiable figures in the Bible), are air-brushed out.  Similarly, the briefer but equally murky power-struggle between Solomon (backed by Nathan, and presumably God) and his brother Adonijah (backed by Joab) is omitted.  If you only read Chronicles, you would not know that these things happened.  You would not know that Solomon murdered his brother (well, that’s how it looks to me.)

But since we have Samuel and Kings, we do know… although these bits are rarely preached on.  Fascinating history – gruesome, completely believable, and difficult to draw coherent moral lessons from.  I would even go so far as to say that the “real” feeling of these chapters contributes to my confidence in the historicity of the rest of Samuel/Kings.

God – and the collators of the Biblical canon – evidently thought we needed to know them, and so He gave us Samuel and Kings.  Why, then, do we need Chronicles as well?

Is it, perhaps, a divine hint?  A hint that even when events are related in the Bible, there may be omissions, another side to the story, question marks?  A hint that things aren’t simple, and even the Bible needs to be read with a little realistic cynicism?

And if so, are there a few other hints to be found in the Bible, in what’s been left in, and what doesn’t match?

Love from the PPI Blogger

1 Comment
  • Penelope

    2nd April 2016 at 12:39 am Reply

    The text of Samuel at least seems to have undergone compositional change at some period in its history, as the Masoretic text and the Septuagint, at least as portrayed in the Codex Vaticanus don’t always coincide. Everyone knows that David killed Goliath except perhaps for the family of Elhanan who recorded a rival claim, “Again there was fighting with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan the son of Ya’are oregim the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, whose spear had a shaft like a weaver’s beam” (2 Samuel 21:19). It doesn’t seem likely that there were two Goliath’s with spear shafts like a weaver’s beam and this also seems to indicate that we can’t always assume that the writer(s) of the books of Samuel are always fully cognisant of all the facts surrounding any particular event. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Battle of Britain where you would get two different pilots both claiming to have shot down the same plane. Perhaps Elhanan did kill a Philistine warrior with a massive spear but forgot to ask for a copy of his ID before killing him?

    There also seem to be continuity errors in the books of Samuel. Doesn’t he know about the need for a good copy editor? Or perhaps he misheard God’s dictation? “David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem” (1 Samuel 17:54a). However this seems unlikely and implausible because David only conquers Jerusalem much later in his career, after he is crowned king of Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 5:6-10). Once again these apparent inconsistencies seem to affirm the authenticity of the different sources and the reverence in which they were held as subsequent translators/editors didn’t dare to try and reconcile the different traditions.

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